Back to the drawing board

Published 7:01 am Saturday, November 14, 2020

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With the operating levy  defeated, APS is having  to regroup for the future

By late Wednesday afternoon of last week, just a day after Election Day, things were looking good for Austin Public Schools’ operating levy referendum.

But a surge of votes late in the afternoon turned that optimism around as the referendum was defeated by a slim majority, 6,134 to 5,956, according to unofficial results a week later.

Superintendent of Schools Dave Krenz

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The district will have to go back to the drawing board as they face some possible tough decisions in the coming years.

The referendum would have adjusted the per student cost by $505. Currently the operating levy sits at $42, by far the lowest in the Big Nine Conference. The raise to $547 per student would put the district on more of an even scale with the other schools and increase revenue by $2.8 million at a time it is desperately needed.

“I think the biggest thing is that we weren’t able to get out and use our best strategy,” said Superintendent David Krenz. “That’s where we meet face-to-face with people and go door-to-door.”

The reason the district is in this position where it needed to ask for the increase from stakeholders is because of a plateauing of student enrollment in recent years.

The problem is further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as the school district is facing a steep loss in revenue of potentially $10 million, “just like that,” Krenz said.

Part of that loss is attributed to families choosing other forms of education, including home schooling, private schools or virtual academies. That has resulted in just over 200 students that haven’t returned to the Austin school district this year.

Even though Krenz believes the district will have to return to a possible operation levy in the future, for the time being the district now has to look at making some potentially tough decisions.

“We’re limited in how we can increase revenue,” Krenz explained. “Maybe we need to start charging to increase revenue. We don’t charge people to walk in the dome, so maybe we have to start charging for people to walk in the dome.”

There is a potential for increased athletic fees, running the danger of taking opportunities away from students.

More than this though is the possibility for cutting back on staff. Not necessarily laying people off, but not increasing staff either.

“You don’t want to lay people off, but when people retire and resign, maybe we don’t replace them,” Krenz said.

New school board voices

Krenz also spoke briefly about the changes to the Austin School Board that will see three new faces moving forward.

Katie Ulwelling, who won the special election to fill out the rest of Don Fox’s term, will be the first to join in November, but will later be joined by Cece Kroc and Evan Sorenson. Don Leathers won another term and all three will start their terms in January.

“Whoever ended up getting elected is going to do a great job for the district and our students,” Krenz said while speaking well of the job done by Carolyn Dube, who did not get reelected to another term. “Carolyn has done an excellent job in the district. I know the new people will too.”